HE goes by the nickname ‘Big Money Mike’ in the USA and when you look at some of the races and the horses jockey Mike Smith has been associated with then you can understand why.
Songbird, Zenyatta, Arrogate and Justify are just some of the star names the 53-year-old has partnered, and he has another strong book of rides on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, headed by the exciting McKinzie.
We caught up with the rider to get the lowdown on his rides and take a trip down memory lane.
What makes the Breeders’ Cup so special for you?
That it’s international. It’s not just that it’s the best of the United States, man, it’s the best horses from around the world. We get most of the best European horses and from South America – it’s great and it really adds to the occasion and the quality of the races. It’s the world coming together.
What do you make of the European challenge at the Breeders’ Cup this year?
It’s without a doubt very strong, like it is every year. They’re especially strong on the grass but every year they seem to be bringing over horses who are stronger on the dirt too. I’m pretty excited to see them, especially Enable.
You ride McKinzie in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Can you tell us a little about him?
He’s a brilliant three-year-old. He’s a horse that we certainly haven’t seen the best of yet and I hope that we do on Saturday in the Classic. We don’t think he’s reached his full potential yet and we feel he’s got a lot of talent.
Do you think McKinzie is ready to show his class in the Classic?
He’s training like he’s ready to run big and put himself in with a real shot of showing us on the track how good we think he is. He’s taking on the older horses for the first time, so we’ll see how he gets on there. He’s super talented.
Marley’s Freedom looks to have a leading chance in the Filly & Mare Sprint. How are things with her?
She’s a deserving favourite and given a good trip she’ll be difficult to beat. She’ll be coming with a late run and we’ll have to dodge some traffic, but if we can get through she’s going to be tough to beat. She’s got a great finish. If she’s within two lengths of the leaders turning for home then she’ll run them down.
Abel Tasman goes for the Distaff. Do you think she can land the contest?
If she runs her A race then she’s tough, man. The main competition to her are the two three-year-olds Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou. She will need to produce her best but if she does I think she’ll run well. She is a pretty consistent filly bar her last race and we’re just throwing that one out.
All three of your rides on Saturday are for trainer Bob Baffert. Tell us a little about him?
He’s the guy I do most of my riding for and his record speaks for itself. He’s brilliant at what he does and he’s an incredible horseman – a genius. He’s so good at getting horses ready for these type of races, especially over a mile and a quarter and the Classic races. McKinzie is coming into the race off one race after a layoff but if anyone can get a horse ready off that it’s Bob.
Sadly, there is no Justify at the Breeders’ Cup this year. How good was he, in your opinion?
He was such a brilliant horse. Not only was he supremely talented, he was also so intelligent – he was such a smart horse. I think that’s what made him so difficult to beat. Not only was he good but on top of that he had the ‘IT factor’ which was his mind, he didn’t make mistakes. He was a big horse too, a huge horse and a tremendous physical specimen.
You must be disappointed they took the decision to retire Justify to stud rather than race him?
Yes, from a selfish point of view. I’d have loved to still have him around. But then what a time for McKinzie to come up and have the torch passed to him. Hopefully we can finish the year off well with him. Given a fair chance I think we can see something special from him this weekend.
And, finally, you will always been associated with the brilliant Zenyatta. What was it like being associated with her?
She was a special lady – one of a kind. The Classic she won at Santa Anita in ‘09 was probably the greatest, if not the greatest, Breeders’ Cup performance. The whole day was incredible and the atmosphere like nothing I’ve ever known. It was special and she was special. I was very blessed to get the chance to ride her.